The Mars Volta - Amputechture
Alex Worsnip 14/09/2006
It seems an odd thing to say about such an overblown band, but The Mars Volta really are at their best when they keep it (relatively) simple. Every step in their career has seemingly been an attempt to out-do the last, and so they've moved away from a sound that was complex, but tightly focused and punch-packing (say, 'Roulette Dares') into what is at times an unlistenable mess of 70s prog wankery.
'Amputechture' is not a massive shift from previous album 'Frances The Mute'. The two best songs are the simplest: 'Vermicide' is the slowest, more accessible track, very much a cousin of 'Televators' or 'The Widow' from the first and second albums respectively. And single 'Viscera Eyes', although over nine minutes long in album form, is the closest they get to that balance of technical prowess and listenability that they struck more often on the first album; awash in crunching guitars and apocalyptic drumming.
But beyond these two tracks, 'Amputechture' is something you can take or leave, almost dropping into self-parody at times. At least three of the tracks are totally pointless: opener 'Vicarious Atonement' is a stripped down, sinister intro which would work as a minute-long build into the album proper but, at seven minutes, outstays its welcome to a ridiculous extent, while 'Asilos Magdalena' is the compulsory Spanish track, complete with acoustic picking, and is again a throwaway interlude at best, but is stretched into six and a half minutes. And closer 'El Ciervo Vulnerado' is a weird, unstructured noodle, not fully arranged, again spun out over a length about nine times what it needs to be. This leaves 'Tetragrammaton', 'Meccamputechture' and 'Day of the Baphomets', which are all as ridiculous as their titles indicate , and are by and large pointless rehashes of the style found on 'Frances The Mute'.
Really, it comes down to this: there's nothing quite so thrilling about hearing the sonic daring of this band when they're doing it in the same way over and over again. If they focused down their energy into smaller chunks that combined the intensity of At The Drive-In with the sense of experimentation of the early Mars Volta work, they could do something great. Until then, it looks as though they'll just keep making their songs longer and more ridiculous because it's the only method that they can see of 'pushing boundaries'. Which is a great shame.